Freshmen help Southeast to 17-7 start

Friday, March 30, 2007
Southeast Missouri State's Josh Syberg pitched seven shutout innings against Cleveland State earlier this season at Capaha Field. (Fred Lynch)

Harris and Klocke establish themselves as hitters to watch in the OVC, while Syberg is tied for the conference lead in wins.

Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Mark Hogan has had plenty of talented freshmen during his 13 seasons leading the program.

But it's doubtful any three first-year Southeast players have started their college careers as impressively at the same time as Hogan's current trio of Nick Harris, Jim Klocke and Josh Syberg.

"What they've been doing is very impressive," Hogan said. "They are three players who are mature beyond their years."

Harris, the Redhawks' third baseman, and Klocke, their catcher, have both started all 24 games for Southeast (17-7), which will put its 3-0 Ohio Valley Conference record on the line this weekend with a series at Murray State.

Syberg, a left-hander, has been one of the Redhawks' primary starting pitchers since the beginning of the season.

"They've certainly started off their college careers in very good fashion," Hogan said.

Harris, from Alabaster, Ala., which is near Birmingham, is batting .367 to rank third on the team.

Harris leads the Redhawks in home runs (six), runs scored (31) and hits (36). He is tied for the club lead in doubles (six), triples (two) and stolen bases (seven), having been caught just twice. He is also third on the squad with 22 runs batted in.

In addition, Harris ranks among the OVC statistical leaders in most offensive categories, including first in runs scored. He is tied for second in homers.

"He's a very special athlete, and he has a chance to be great because he has all the tools," Hogan said. "And he's a big-time competitor."

The soft-spoken Harris, who has also been solid defensively with numerous fielding gems, shrugged his shoulders and smiled when asked if his strong play so far has surprised him.

"I don't know," he said. "I just try to play my game."

But how did Harris wind up in Cape Girardeau, all the way from Alabama, especially since OVC programs Samford and Jacksonville State are basically in his backyard?

Harris said he never really considered attending those two universities.

His decision came down to South Alabama and Southeast, which he said began recruiting him after spotting him at a Mississippi State baseball camp.

"It was a tough decision, but I just loved the atmosphere of the team when I came to visit here," Harris said. "They just took me under their wings. I felt pretty sold on SEMO, and I'm glad I'm here."

So is Hogan.

"He's fit in great, as have all our young guys," Hogan said.

That includes Klocke and Syberg, who didn't have to travel nearly to play for the Redhawks.

Klocke and Syberg were teammates at Vianney High School in St. Louis, where they helped lead the Griffins to state titles during their sophomore and senior seasons while playing for coach Steve Bieser, a former Southeast star.

Klocke, the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association player of the year as a senior, is batting .306 for the Redhawks, with one homer, five doubles and 19 RBIs.

In addition, Klocke has struck out just twice all season, making him statistically the toughest player to fan in the OVC.

"He's been wonderful," Hogan said.

While performing well offensively, Klocke has also been solid behind the plate. That's no small feat considering he was not even a catcher in high school.

"I mainly played third base and pitched, but I caught some in summer ball and I was looking to come to college as a catcher," Klocke said. "Scouts told me that's my best position for my future."

As for how surprised he is by what he has accomplished so far this year, Klocke said, "I really didn't know what to expect, but I'm glad I've gotten so much playing time."

So is Syberg, who like Klocke and Harris was an all-state performer in high school.

Syberg is 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA. He and teammate Phillip Riley are tied for the OVC wins lead, while Syberg also tops the conference in strikeouts with 38 and is seventh in ERA.

"I'm a little bit surprised at how well I've done so far, because the competition is a lot better than high school, obviously," said Syberg, who weighs about 160 pounds.

"But coach Hogan and coach Bieser both told me if I kept throwing my game, I'd be all right up here."

Syberg is pleased to have his high school classmate as his college battery mate.

"He caught me a few times in the summer, and it's nice to have him with me," Syberg said of Klocke.

Hogan's been impressed with Syberg's presence on the mound early in the season.

"You wouldn't know Josh was a freshman by watching him pitch," Hogan said. "He's so composed on the mound.

All three of them certainly don't act or play like freshmen. But you've got to look at their backgrounds. Jim was the state player of the year in Missouri, Nick was the player of the year in his area, and Josh has pitched in so many big games. They're just very mature."

And, along with numerous older players, the freshman trio is a major reason why the Redhawks have the OVC's best overall record and are tied for first place in the conference.

"They've certainly been a big part of it," Hogan said.

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